College football is back again

The end of August signals three things: the time to stow away your white clothes, the unfortunate start of school after what was surely a summer of rest and relaxation, and most importantly, another college football season kicking into gear.

On Thursday, Boston College travels to play Central Michigan to kick off the 2006 college football campaign. It will be no easy task to follow up last year’s season-closing game, a game many feel was one of the greatest ever played. Last year, the Texas Longhorns became the national champions thanks to a stunning performance by quarterback Vince Young, as they came back to defeat the USC Trojans and Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush in the Rose Bowl.

This season, USC and Texas are in similar boats, as both teams are relying on inexperience at the quarterback position. Junior John David Booty is at the helm for USC, and redshirt freshman Colt McCoy and true freshman Jevan Snead are both in the running to replace Young, with McCoy having a slight edge at this point.

Ohio State is the consensus number-one team in the Associated Press (AP) preseason rankings (although these rankings matter about as much as who’s behind you in the buffet line). The Buckeyes return seven starters on offense from a 10–2 team that last season won the Fiesta Bowl. Quarterback Troy Smith and wide receiver and playmaker Ted Ginn Jr. are both legitimate Heisman candidates, but in order to keep their number-one ranking, their defense will have some big shoes to fill, as they must replace nine starters.

Notre Dame is right behind Ohio State in the rankings, and Texas, despite losing Young, is ranked number three in the AP poll, followed by Auburn, with Big East conference member West Virginia rounding out the top five. West Virginia has one of the best quarterback/running back tandems in college football today, with Pat White under center and Steve Slaton in the backfield. The blazing-fast White has been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40, and Slaton ran for over 1100 yards last year as a freshman.

The preseason favorite for the Heisman award, given to college football’s best player, is Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who is the top returning Heisman vote-getter. Quinn and talented wide receiver Jeff Samardjia will “shake and bake” defenses all year long, resulting in touchdowns and wins. Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, Florida quarterback Chris Leak, and Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm are among the others expected to vie for the coveted trophy.

The college football schedule this fall is as full as a fat lady’s sock. The first couple of weeks of the season will showcase some scintillating showdowns, including Florida State battling Miami on Labor Day, and Penn State traveling to Notre Dame and Ohio State at Texas on September 9. Other games that you can’t afford to miss include LSU at Auburn in mid-September, Michigan at Ohio State in mid-November, and Notre Dame at USC in late November.

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has been modified slightly with the new setup consisting of five games instead of the previous four. Back are the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Sugar Bowl. New to the BCS is the BCS National Championship Game, which will pit the top two teams against each other to determine the national champion. The game is to be played in Glendale, Ariz., and will cap off the 2006 college football season.

Ohio State and West Virginia appear to have all the tools necessary to make it to Glendale, as long as they can stay healthy and keep their offenses running on all cylinders. As the old phrase goes, “Defense wins championships,” but with quarterbacks like Smith and White and playmakers like Ginn and Slaton, my advice to the defenses of the Buckeyes and the Mountaineers is to just hang on, enjoy the ride, and don’t blow this golden opportunity.